Coyote conflicts: a research perspective

Coyote attacks on domestic pets


One of the worst conflicts between people and coyotes is the occasional attack on a domestic pet by a coyote. In some areas frequented by coyotes, it is not difficult to find an account of a pet attack or missing cat (presumed to have been eaten by a coyote) in the local newspaper. To increase our understanding of coyote attacks on domestic pets, we searched newspaper databases for articles on pet attacks in the Chicago metropolitan area. Through these articles, we found records of 70 attacks on dogs, 10 attacks on cats, and alleged attacks on a duck and pig. Between 1990 and 2004, the number of attacks on pets in the Chicago metropolitan area increased from 0-2 attacks per year to 6-14 reported attacks per year. We also found more accounts of attacks during the late fall, winter, and early spring than during the warmer months of the year. Cities and townships with the most reported attacks were Arlington Heights, Chicago, Geneva, North Shore, and Palatine.

Attacks on Dogs:

Coyote attacks on domestic dogs by breed

Almost 30 different breeds of dog were reported to have been attacked by coyotes. Smaller breed dogs were attacked more often than medium and large sized dogs, with 20 small breeds, 3 medium breeds, and 6 large breeds attacked. Although smaller breeds are more commonly attacked, larger breeds, such as Labrador Retrievers and Golden Retrievers, have also been attacked in the Chicago metropolitan area. Larger breeds of dog were usually attacked by two or more coyotes, often alpha pairs, at a time.

Attacks on smaller dog breeds were more often fatal (although some attacks on larger breeds were fatal as well) and usually the attack involved a single coyote. Yorkshire terriers and Shih Tzus were the breeds most commonly attacked (6 attacks each), followed by Jack Russell terriers and Labrador Retrievers (5 attacks each), and boxers and poodles (4 attacks each). Dogs were more commonly attacked during the winter months than during the spring and summer which corresponds to the breeding season of the coyote. Dogs were attacked while outside in their backyard (both alone and in the presence of their owner) and also while being walked by their owner in a park.

Seasonal variations in coyote attacks on dogs

What can you do? If you are aware of coyotes in your neighborhood, it is important to exhibit caution when leaving your dog outdoors (especially if it is a small breed). Fences can help to keep coyotes out of your yard but coyotes have been known to jump over fences. The best fences for keeping out coyotes are at least six feet tall and have a roll bar on top. Also, if you are walking your dog in a park frequented by coyotes, you should always keep your pet on leash and perhaps carry a walking stick, noise maker, or mace to fend off a possible attack. After all, it's not just coyotes that you may encounter; remember that loose domestic dogs pose a much greater risk of attack than coyotes. Be aware of seasonal variations in behavior and most importantly, make sure that no one in your neighborhood is attracting coyotes by leaving food outdoors.

Attacks on Cats:

Although coyotes do attack and kill domestic cats in the Chicago area, cat attacks are often more difficult to substantiate than dog attacks. Of the 10 cat attacks reported in the Chicago metropolitan area, almost half were lost cats that the owners assumed were eaten by coyotes (but attacks were not confirmed). The best way to ensure that your cat is not attacked by a coyote is to keep it indoors at all times. If you must let your cat outside, it is important not to leave food outside for your cat (or for other cats in the neighborhood). Food left outside may attract coyotes, which may then attack your cat (or dog).


Attacks on humans by state

The most extreme form of conflict between humans and coyotes concerns coyote attacks on people. We conducted an analysis of coyote attacks throughout the United States and Canada between 1985 and 2006 in order to investigate the frequency and characteristics of these attacks. Prior to this, an analysis of coyote attacks on people had only been completed for California and other portions of the western U.S. and Canada. We searched newspaper articles and scientific journals for attack accounts, and also contacted representatives from state wildlife agencies to verify attack details and receive information on additional attacks. In our search, we only included incidents in which humans were bitten by a coyote (this helped to standardize our definition of an attack and decrease the amount of speculation sometimes found in media articles).

We located accounts of 142 coyote attack incidents, resulting in 159 human victims. These attacks took place over a wide geographic area, including 14 states in the U.S. and 4 provinces in Canada. Most attacks, however, occurred in the western U.S., with almost half of the attacks occurring in California and another large portion (14%) occurring in Arizona. We did not find records of any attacks on humans within the Chicago metropolitan area (or even within the state of Illinois).

Attack Demographics:  Who was attacked?

We also investigated the demographics of attack victims. We found that there was no difference in the frequency of attacks between women and men or between adults and children. However, children were the victims of the most serious attacks

Nature of Attacks:

Nature of attacks

Attacks generally fell into 5 categories:

  • Defensive (the coyote felt threatened and was defending itself, pups, or a den)
  • Rabid (the coyote was captured, tested, and diagnosed with rabies)
  • Pet-related (the coyote attacked a person who was walking a pet, trying to save a pet from a coyote attack, or was just near a domestic pet at the time of attack)
  • Investigative (the coyote bit a sleeping or resting person, testing it as a possible prey source)
  • Predatory (the coyote directly and aggressively pursued and bit the victim)

We classified 37% of attacks as Predatory, 22% as Investigative, 7% as Rabid, 6% as Pet-related, and 4% as Defensive (the other 24% could not be classified due to a lack of details). Predatory attacks resulted in the most serious injuries.

Patterns of Attacks:

To determine patterns in the circumstances of attacks, we analyzed the activities of victims prior to attack. Most victims were doing some sort of recreational activity (such as camping, walking, or biking) when they were attacked. Many victims were also relaxing outside their homes, sitting on porches, grilling out, or sleeping outside. The majority of attacks occurred outside the residence of the victim or in a park.

We also investigated the timing of attack incidents. We found that slightly more attacks occurred during the months of January through April (the breeding season for coyotes) than in other months. We did not find a meaningful difference in the number of attacks occurring during daytime versus nighttime hours.

Outcomes of Attacks:

Most victims of coyote attacks were attacked by seemingly healthy coyotes; only 15 victims were bitten by rabid coyotes. Most victims did not suffer serious injuries from the attack. The majority of attack victims were able to run away or scare off the coyote and stop the attack by yelling or throwing objects at it. Those that did suffer the most serious injuries were children.

Only two fatal coyote attacks in the U.S. and Canada have been recorded in modern history:  in 1981, a 3-year old female in California died of injuries sustained from a coyote attack, and most recently in 2009, a 19-year old female was fatally attacked by a group of eastern coyotes while hiking alone in Cape Breton Highlands National Park, Nova Scotia (click here for more information).

In almost a third of the reported attack cases, it was known that coyotes were being fed (either intentionally or accidentally) near the attack site. One victim was bitten while feeding a coyote and another was bitten by a coyote that was being fed by her parents. After speaking to wildlife officials in areas of known coyote attacks on humans, we strongly suspect that wildlife feeding was occurring in the locations of many of the other attacks, even though this was not documented.


Although we were able to gather some useful insights from our research of coyote attacks within the United States and Canada, we were limited by the source of our data because records of coyote attacks throughout the U.S. and Canada are often inaccessible and/or unreliable. Some of the accounts that we located contained few details about the coyote attack and we also suspect that additional incidents may have gone unreported or were not reflected in the media.

We feel that a standardized reporting system of coyote attacks throughout North America would be extremely helpful for further informing the details and circumstances of coyote attacks on humans and therefore preventing future attacks. For suggestions on how to avoid conflict, click here

Coyote 115 at capture

We were not able to capture the first mate of Coyote 1 prior to his death (likely from a vehicle), but we captured her second mate, Coyote 115, on February 18, 2004, at the peak of the mating season. Coyote 115 was in excellent condition at 18 kg (40 lbs). He remained with Coyote 1 constantly until her death in 2010. Their relationship was interesting to observe, where at times they were inseparable, and other times they would take short breaks from each other. Still, they defended the same territory together continuously after 115’s collaring date.